Tehran is utterly worried. The message it is trying to convey to the West may contain a double significance, if not more. On one hand, the Islamic republic believes that its 900km long border with Afghanistan makes of the future of this country one of its most urgent concerns. On the other hand, Tehran knows that it is well the victors who shape the post-war geopolitical configurations according to their interests. Otherwise, in order to have a word in the aftermath of the war, the Islamic republic – like any other party – ought to be part of the coalition. But is Tehran able to go so far?
In a recent telephone conversation with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Mr. Kharrazi – his counterpart – stressed the official viewpoint consisting mainly in: 1- refusing any military solution to settle the Afghan crisis. 2- Giving a key-role to the current representative of Afghanistan in the UN concerning the future of this country. 3- Giving the UN a role of supervisor. 4- All Afghan groups and tribes should participate to the broad-based future government.
If we exclude the conventional rhetoric from this message, we may interpret it as a warning that though Iran would not take part to the ongoing offensive against the Taliban- which it never recognized -, it would not allow America and Pakistan to settle the future of this country according to their own interests, though.
An Iran News editorial shows the current mood prevailing in Tehran as regards the American intervention. It termed the visit of Colin Powell to Pakistan as ” ill timed” no matter what the logic behind it may be. The editorial did not fail to notice that one possible reason for Powell’s visit could be ” to pave the way for the return of the former Afghan monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah, to his homeland”. The paper could thus barely hide the true reasons of the Iranian worries: The possible return of Zahir Shah to power is an omen they do not want, since this may be appealing for the offspring of their own Shah. Such a perspective is merely painful to contemplating for the Iranian Mollahs.
How would they deal with it?
The Iranian institutions are almost in a state of emergency. Though the parliament is controlled by Khatami’s followers, some of whom were, so far, urging moderation and dialogue with the West, it sounds as if the recent crisis is rather favorable to the hard-liners. Lately, the spokesman for Special Parliament Commission on the Regional Crisis Gholam Heydar Ebrahimbay-Salami said that the commission has reviewed a proposal on ‘ active independent position based on national interests’ instead of ‘active neutrality’ vis-a-vis the recent crisis. Which means that a shift in current Iranian policy concerning the regional struggle has been not only considered but also pledged. Which means also that Iran is moving slowly, but almost certainly, towards more an active role in the regional map, which had been reined in by Khatami access to power. The spokesman underlined the Iranian concerns about ” the change in strategic balance in Central Asia, the presence of the US forces in Uzbekistan as well as Russian support for the US led alliance against terrorism.”
It is indubitable that Iran is confronted with an unprecedented situation on its borders, where Russians and Americans seem – for the first time in the contemporary history – agreeing upon containing the terrorist wave which Iran itself – through its revolution- was one of its causes.
Thus, Iran is seeking allies. The old quarrel between Pakistan and India would suit perfectly its own wishes. The Northern alliance and India would be these “natural” allies against what is felt in Tehran as an American-Pakistani plot to exclude the Iranians from any regional entente to be settled.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.